Your memory doesn’t have to suffer as you age.  With the right food, exercise, and habits, you can stay sharp throughout your life.
Memory lapses can be both embarrassing and troubling.  But a few slipups don’t necessarily doom you to a future of forgetfulness.  A memory is made by linking 2 or more of the 100 billion nerve cells in your brain called neurons, then solidifying the connection so you can use it later.  And your brain continues to develop neurons and build new connections to strengthen memory as you age, a phenomenon called neuroplasticity.  So it’s never too late to improve your powers of recall.  That’s where these strategies come in.  They’ll help you hone your memory and keep it robust for years to come.
  • Get more sleep.  Experts agree that if you do only one thing to improve your memory, getting more sleep should be it.  Sleep is key time for your brain to solidify connections between neurons.  Rule of thumb: get 7-9 hours of sleep total each day.  And yes, naps count.
  • Jog your memory.  Literally.  Running—or biking or swimming or doing any other type of cardiovascular activity—for 20-30 minutes three times a week has been proven to help you remember things better.  Raising your heart rate gets your blood flowing to your brain, enlarges the hippocampus (the most vital part of the brain for memory) and increases the secretion of hormones necessary for long-term memory.  Also, cardiovascular exercise can actually cause new connections to sprout between neurons in the hippocampus.
  • Have some food (and drink) for thought.  Your brain can’t function properly without essential nutrients and chemical compounds.  Blueberries are the top source of substances called anthocyanins, which are brain-boosting antioxidants.  Anthocyanins shield the brain again inflammation and oxidation, both of which can damage neurons and make them less effective at communicating with one another.   Fit in leafy green vegetables every day as well, as those who eat more spinach, kale and other leafy greens have less age-related memory decline. 
  • Choose Smart Supplements.  Forget about ginkgo biloba.  This herbal supplement has no positive impact on memory.  However, a few supplements are known to encourage the growth of new neurons and decrease substances that can inhibit cognitive function.  The gold standard is fish oil, which has been associated with lowering the risk of dementia because it contains DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that decreases the production of memory-inhibiting substances in the brain and that may be involved in the formation of new neurons.  Increasing your consumption of fatty fish, like salmon, helps, or you may take a daily supplement containing at least 240 mg DHA.  Vitamin D may also help, since it stimulates the growth of new neurons and helps clear protein abnormalities associated with diseases that affect memory, such as dementia.  You might also consider folic acid, B6 and B12 complex.  All three of these B vitamins are needed to remove the amino acid homocysteine from your blood.  Homocysteine is produced during normal processes in the body, but if too much builds up, it can result in poor brain function.
  • Get still.  Meditation improves your concentration and focus, which benefits memory.  In addition, meditation has been shown to reduce stress, which can do a number on memory. 
  • Do something out of the ordinary.  New experiences, such as taking a different route to work, can also improve recall.  Our brains are constantly deciding what’s important enough to remember and what can be tossed away.  When you’re in a novel situation, your brain assumes that information is going to be important and holds onto it.  Also, you’ll better retain things that happen immediately after a novel experience. 
  • Check you medicine cabinet.  A number of medications can affect memory.  Antihistamines, antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs and sleep aids to name a few.  Each has its own way of working with the brain, so things that happen while you’re on the medication may not stick around in your brain.  Don’t stop taking medication without talking to your physician, but bring up the subject at your next visit.  An alternative medicine or treatment may be available.
  • Get checked out.  Two more-serious but less common issues could cause memory lapses: gluten sensitivity and thyroid disease.  If you have an undiagnosed sensitivity to gluten and you’re eating foods like breads and crackers, your memory could suffer.  Many people describe the feeling as a brain fog—a slightly out-of-it fuzzy sensation.  Your doctor can screen for gluten sensitivity, and dietary modifications can keep the condition in check.  Thyroid disorders can also wreak havoc on recall.  If you notice increasing forgetfulness, along with depression or a change in weight or your menstrual cycle, see you doctor.  Medication can get the condition under control.
  • Challenge your head.  We know that people who are cognitively active have better memory as they age.  Staying engaged in the world around you reinforces the connections between neurons, so do some activities that make you think.  Go to a museum once a month, learn words in a new language, watch a documentary on a subject that fascinates you or do a crossword puzzle!